13 April 2011

On werewolves and packs

Photo by Harlequeen, used under Creative Commons Licence

I find the concept of werewolves very interesting, although I read my fill of them some time back and they are more likely to make me put a book back on the shelf these days. I certainly don't plan to write a werewolf story to join the hundreds out there, but they still exercise my imagination when it comes down to social organisation. How much werewolf social structure would come from the animal, the pack and how much from human society with its complicated, messy dynamics?

It interests me because for quite a long time I had a three dog one bitch dog pack at home, not including us humans. We are down to two dogs now. I have seen three pack leaders, and for the sake of argument I am going to exclude the people. Yes I know The Old Git is technically alpha dog and I am alpha bitch, but I want to look at the relationships between them with as little of that human misunderstanding as possible. Looking at canine behaviour in a household gives me a picture of what it means to be pack leader.

One of my dogs was what I would describe as a true alpha. He was a mild-tempered border collie, lovely to live with, but the other dogs didn't cross him on food and you didn't threaten his family. I remember once we had a new arrival, a very traumatised young border collie, and out for a walk one day someone else's dog decided to go in on him. I never saw our alpha move, but as this dog came steaming in on the youngest, suddenly the alpha was there. The aggressor bounced off him and changed his mind about the attack and headed off in the other direction. Likewise, any rough and tumble at home and this dog was there, interfering and making it difficult to carry on.

And yet, I never saw that dog fight. He maintained everything through sheer presence. The others automatically deferred to him.

His two successors are what I would call wannabe alphas. They got the job because no better candidate was available. Huge difference, which showed as aggression. They wanted the job and they worried about keeping it. They exercised control over the lower dogs with an iron fist; they were bullies.

Did the pack benefit from it? No. The pack was more uptight and more likely to misbehave. There were frequent spats, and when one matured and became stronger than the other, the pack balanced on a knife edge until the older dog died because he would not relinquish control.

I also have a natural omega dog. You can see he doesn't want the responsibility of a high position, but that doesn't mean he will be bullied. When he arrived, the wannabe alpha of the time rushed in to bully him and omega dog saw him off with a full display of the pearly whites, and settled down to being just that. Nobody's whipping boy, just not the boss.

Back to werewolves, where the human factor comes into play. I have spent some time looking at the men in my office, and how they fit into their roles at the office (the women are much trickier, possibly because I am looking from the inside). I can see the natural alphas, the wannabe alphas, the oh-crap-how-did-I-end-up-alphas and the natural omegas.

That being the case, where the boys are concerned at least, I see a werewolf pack working much the same as a dog pack. A strong pack would be characterised by a mild natural alpha showing little overt control. Omegas in that pack would not necessarily be weak, more horrified at the prospect of taking responsibility. Where a pack didn't have a natural alpha, they would be more aggressive to each other and show more dysfunction in their ranks.

The girls, now that's a whole 'nother story.

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